Rachel’s parents were driving to a music festival in Santa Fe when she overheard the conversation about her Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy who, up to that point, she’d known nothing of. Her mom said he was kicked out of the family when he got caught playing diddly winks with the gardener’s son. Her mom said he worked the truck stops somewhere over in Texas, that he was a favorite because he could take his teeth out, because his blowjobs were all gums. That stuck in Rachel’s mind, the blowjobs were all gums part, because she imagined it had something to do with candy and bubbles.
She was playing asleep in the back window of their blue ’61 Chevy Impala when she overheard. The Impala was where she spent most of her early childhood. It had a bulbous back window littered with toys. She could stretch out in it from end to end and spent countless hours watching the clouds roll overhead, sticking her tongue out at cars behind them, occasionally sticking her butt cheeks against the cold windshield when her parents got crabby and needed some comedic relief.
One time, outside El Paso on their way to a Dead concert, Rachel’s mooning was rewarded with a hairy butt and testicles stuck to a passing car window. Rachel liked looking at the hairy butt and smashed testicles and was disappointed when the car sped on, when the man sat down in his seat and looked back at them with a toothy smile. Her mother returned the favor by standing in the passenger seat and showing her butt. Rachel wonders what happened to the good old days when people would show their butts just because.
Spending so much time in a car required a great deal of creativity and imagination. Rachel collected insects from the car grill. She dried them out in the back window when the car wasn’t moving. She kept them in a cigar box and would pull them out when her parents and other adults that looked like them were dancing around campfires, smoking grass, sometimes ending up in a pile sounding like cows.
She collected dragonflies, horseflies, butterflies; every conceivable bug that got stuck in the car grill. Her prized insect was a praying mantis she found stuck to a tree. She named her after Grace Slick. She liked to put Grace in her hair and walk around all day like she was a princess. She had very specific criteria for the insects she kept and found the best ones were after what her parents called, “off the beaten path” drives. Many of the insects didn’t die immediately and would flitter about. She performed emergency operations on them, amputations, tried to fuse their seeping bodies with a smoldering match, but they never lived.
She had a whole army of cicada shells she found clinging to a Weeping Willow when they went to jazz fest in New Orleans, when she got to run around with a black kid who told her to call him Smokey and let her touch his tallywacker underneath a rickety old porch. She lined the insects up like a freakish army when she was left for long periods of time. She could never keep their legs from breaking off and eventually they would crumble to dust and stick in the corners and cracks of the cigar box. For the most part Rachel slept when the car was in motion, falling victim to the lulling thuds and vibrations running like a river beneath Dylan’s raspy voice or Janice’s howls of discontent. This, of course, was during the first ten years of her life, before her parents found Jesus. Before they became uptight and started calling her Rachel instead of her birth name, Flower. Her parents were both from wealthy families so the change was abrupt—from free flowing dresses and no panties to pleated skirts that itched, dirty bare feet to tight patent leather shoes and private schools where slouching wasn’t permitted and showing your butt was looked down upon.
The memories wash over her unexpectedly—when the sunshine hits her face just so or the smell of patchouli trails a hipster on the New York City streets. Her aunt Joyce says it was the heavy drug use that drove them into the arms of Jesus, “well that and your father almost getting beaten to death for showing his free love to another man’s wife.” “And just like that,” she snaps her fingers. “Some people can’t exist in the middle, Sugar. Got to be on one side or the other.”
All rights reserved to Brian Fender.